What happens if an employee has to self-isolate?

What happens if an employee has to self-isolate? - scrabble tiles

14th October 2020

What happens if an employee has to self-isolate? - scrabble tiles

The rate of covid infections is increasing on a daily basis – with significant changes in certain areas. Thus, there’s great potential for individuals having to self-isolate. So what happens if an employee has to self-isolate because:
a.) They’ve become infected or …
b.) … had contact with someone known to have the virus?
This in turn places greater focus on the effect on the employment relationship. And, in particular, the response of the employer/employee in these situations.
The government is introducing fines of up to £10,000 for individuals and businesses who don’t respect the self-isolation rules. They’re also creating an offence where an employer knowingly permits a worker to attend a place other than where they are self-isolating. Ergo, it’s more important than ever to know what to do when one of your employees has to self-isolate.
What happens if an employee has to self-isolate? - Woman coughing
Employers should neither need nor permit employees to attend work in the following instances:
  1. They, or a member of their household (or support bubble), has symptoms of coronavirus.
  2. The NHS track and trace has advised self-isolation. Nor if they otherwise become aware that a person they’ve been in close contact with has tested positive.
  3. They have returned from a country not exempt from quarantine requirements.
If the employee can work from home, and is well enough to do so, then they should do so with no change to their pay. But if they cannot work from home, their entitlement varies, as follows:

Employees required to self-isolate under points 1 or 2 above

The employee has entitlement to Statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they’re not unwell themselves.
There’s been a lifting of the normal rule that says there can’t be any paying of SSP until day four of illness in cases involving coronavirus. This means that self-isolating employees have entitlement to SSP from day one of their isolation. Yet, employees are still required to self-isolate for at least for days for the entitlement to arise at all.
This means that, where employees begin to self-isolate but receive a negative test result that releases them from self-isolation within three days, they have no entitlement to SSP for those three days.
If the employee is unwell, they have entitlement to any contractual sick pay. If they’re not unwell, company sick pay wouldn’t usually be payable. But employers should look at the wording of their company sick pay rules. Some employers may decide to pay company sick pay even if not obliged to. This is to encourage employees not to come in to work when they should be self-isolating.

Your employee is on furlough

The rules of the furlough scheme aren’t clear in this scenario. Yet, it appears that employers can choose whether to keep the employee on furlough, or to pay them SSP instead. If they make a claim for SSP, you can’t claim the employee’s salary under the furlough scheme for the same period.
If there’s a claim made already, that will need rectifying with HMRC. On the other hand, if you keep an employee on furlough they have no entitlement to SSP. This will of course only apply until the end of October when the Job Retention Scheme ceases.
Similarly, employers can decide whether to keep employees who are flexibly furloughed on furlough – or move them to SSP.
Where the employer moves the employee to SSP, the employee is entitled to SSP for both working days and those which would have been furlough days. But, where an employee remains furloughed for part of the week and should be working for the rest, the prevailing opinion is that employees should get SSP entitlement for the days which fall on working days and furlough pay for their furlough days.
You’ll also have to consider the entitlement to contractual sick pay in this situation.

Employee required to self-isolate under point 3 above

In this case, the employee cannot have SSP or contractual sick pay. Employees may request annual leave to cover this period if they have enough leave left. If they don’t then they may have to take unpaid leave.
As with the above scenarios, it’s untested whether employers can put employees on furlough to cover a quarantine period. Further, furloughing the employee will trigger the need to top up pay by 20% in October and pay pension and National Insurance contributions.
NB: The furlough scheme is closed to new entrants. This means that only those who’ve been on furlough before can go on furlough again.
BUT: if the employee develops symptoms during their quarantine period, they will then become entitled to SSP and any company enhanced sick pay. That means the employer can manage their absence as set out above.
What happens if an employee has to self-isolate? If you need any help and advice with any of this then Go-Legal is here.  There’s several ways to get in touch. You can use our webform on our website here

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Coronavirus or COVID 19: HR responsibilities


March 2020

Coronavirus or COVID 19: HR and Employee Responsibilities

The outbreak of Coronavirus or COVID 19 that the world is experiencing has produced a torrent of information in this past week.

This level of concern is, of course, understandable. What with the threat of a worldwide pandemic on everyone’s lips as the situation worsens. While the government’s response changes as the UK’s situation gathers pace, it’s clear the situation will worsen before it gets better.


Aiming to bring clarity to the CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19 situation for employers

Go-Legal HR have aimed what follows at clarifying the situation as it stands from an employer/employee perspective.

The underlying principle is to follow government guidelines. But at the same time recognise that the circumstances are fluid and may change daily. 

The government publishes daily updates with the latest stats and advice.

Company & Statutory Sick Pay

One big concern surrounds payment of sick pay to employees off sick due to COVID-19. If the absence relates to having symptoms of the virus, normal sick absence rules under company policies will apply.

This week, the government announced provision for payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 of sick absence. This removes the so-called 3-waiting days before SSP applies. It’s unclear when this will start. But any emergency legislation passed by government to deal with this virus, will include it. Moreover, it only relates to absences due to COVID-19 and will lapse when there’s a resolution to this particular situation.

Employees who choose to self-isolate or do not want to come into work

Let’s say you have an asymptomatic employee advised to self-isolate. Either because:

  1. They’ve travelled to an affected area or
  2. been in contact with someone known to have the virus. In this instance, it’s reasonable to treat that as a sick absence.

What is your course of action in this situation?

If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, there have no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances. Yet it would be good practice. And preferable to them coming into work with the risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce. 

It’s clear that small to medium sized businesses have a difficult judgement call to make, given the costs involved.

NB: Do keep checking updated government guidelines for updates. 

But these are exceptional circumstances requiring creative solutions. It’s expected that the Budget will offer some guidance here.

Employees of course also have a duty to look after their own health and safety and that of their colleagues. This includes following self-isolation advice and cooperating with their employer to ensure a safe workplace. 

A virus cell -CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19

The Grey Area

This is those who choose to self-isolate from concern about contracting COVID-19. And in so doing, refuse to come into work. If this is the case, listen with care to the concerns of your employees. If you can, offer flexible working arrangements such as home-working.

Home-working is a practical solution to this current exceptional situation, even if it’s not otherwise suitable for your business. Choosing to explore this option is unlikely to set a precedent. It may soon become the norm wherever practical, if the outbreak worsens.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave. But there is no obligation to agree to this. And anyway, it may not be practical if the circumstances become protracted.


As an employer, it’s your duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety and welfare of all your employees. This includes any employees who may be particularly vulnerable. For instance, pregnant employees, or anyone with pre-existing medical conditions. 

It’s essential to keep abreast of official recommendations. Implementing the advice to avoid infection is a must. For example, providing good access to hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers.  

Do encourage employees to be extra vigilant with washing their hands and using/disposing of tissues etc. Where practicable, provide the resources to help that.

This situation is of course a fluid one. It’s crucial to keep things under review, while treating each case on its own merits. There are bound to be unusual cases even within these exceptional circumstances.

Be consistent in your approach and don’t single out any employees to avoid the risk of allegations of discrimination. 

Other sources of information:

The current situation in the UK is one of containment. But, if the outbreak gathers pace as it has elsewhere, we may see a rapid escalation in the measures needed.

The current situation in the UK is one of containment. But, if the outbreak gathers pace as it has elsewhere, we may see a rapid escalation in the measures needed.

Keep abreast of government updates, but if you are unsure contact Go Legal HR at www.go-legal-hr.com